Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Shinto vs. the vinyl

There are two sides to Japan. There's the 'Shinto side,' and then there's the 'vinyl side.' The 'Shinto side' deals with old, traditional Japan. It's the shamisen wailing at the station at dusk, a tiny shrine in a forgotten corner which somebody once thought was beatiful or serene before it became clogged with traffic. It's nature and being close to it, the old Japan when everyone was a farmer and had a close connection to the land.

Then there's the 'vinyl side,' a frenetic pace of life where half-crazed business men launch themselves into a train carriage and hope there's room, skinny girls with fake-bake bronze skin and silver eyeshadow wear plastic schoolgirl uniforms while posing to chatter on their cell-phones.

From what I can tell, the Japanese as a whole seem to shun the natural side, like the crazy uncle who pees his pants at Thanksgiving dinner and lives with 20 cats. They seem embarrassed about it, ashamed that they'll be seen as backwards and hickish. Maybe it has something to do with the post-WWII trauma, who knows. But when I mention how I want to find shamisen music, or that I enjoy visiting temples and shrines, people either giggle nervously or stare at me in disbelief.

There are two parts to the vinyl side. One is happy, fun, and childlike. The other contains all the downsides of our modern society. This dark side is the side moviemakers and cyberpunk authors draw on to create "Neuromancer" or "Blade Runner." I finished a book yesterday called Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami. It's not really an uplifting story, but the translation was amazing, they convey Murakami's vivid detail and descriptions I could only dream of creating. I definitely recommend it.

If you want to see the happy vinyl side, check out OctopusDropKick, a quirky montage of graphic design, technology, and the funny side of Japanese vinyl culture. Definitely worth checking out.

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